After Eastern Michigan qualified for its second bowl game in program history in 2016, last year could be considered a disappointment. To add to the frustration, six of the Eagles' seven losses came by seven points or fewer, including a five-point defeat at Toledo and a three-point defeat at Northern Illinois. They will have to try to get back to bowling without quarterback Brogan Roback, who graduated after playing parts of five different seasons at EMU.
Previewing Eastern Michigan Football's Offense for 2018
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It will be strange to watch an Eastern Michigan offense without Brogan Roback, who threw for 8,653 yards and 57 touchdowns in his career. Graduate transfer Tyler Wiegers, previously at Iowa, could inherit the quarterback role after getting lost in the shuffle with the Hawkeyes. His competition will be sophomore Isaac Stiebeling (8-of-17 for 49 yards in limited duty), with the edge probably going to the veteran Wiegers as long as he can get a handle on the offense.
All five starters return on the offensive line, giving it a leg up as potentially one of the top units in the MAC.
The Eagles will be in safe hands at running back with seniors Ian Eriksen (810 yards) and Shaq Vann (520), but don't expect a lot of huge plays -- especially with defenses stacking the line. What will help is the aforementioned O-line opening holes on a consistent basis.
Gone are the top three receivers from 2017, with junior Mathew Sexton (26 catches) representing the top returner. This could be a group that does well in moving the chains, but finding a burner for big plays down the field could be a challenge.
Previewing Eastern Michigan Football's Defense for 2018
There is plenty of experience back with this group, including a plethora of talented defensive backs and both defensive ends. With so much returning from a unit that was second in the conference in total defense (363.6 ypg) and second in pass defense (190.3 ypg), optimism should be high.
Among the stalwarts back in the fold are pass rushers Maxx Crosby (11 sacks) and Jeremiah Harris (six), while the secondary has many leaders, including Ikie Calderon -- granted a medical redshirt after getting injured early last season.
The depth on the defensive line and in the secondary is impressive, and senior Kyle Rachwal should be given the opportunity to lead an otherwise untested linebacker group.
There is no reason this defense shouldn't be among the conference's best in 2018.
Previewing Eastern Michigan Football's Specialists for 2018
Jake Julien was solid at punter last season with a 42.6-yard average and nine boots of 50-plus yards on 33 attempts. Placekicker Paulie Fricano was also consistent; he was 15-of-21 on field goals with a long of 46 yards. Blake Banham will probably get the first crack on both punt and kickoff returns.
There are plenty of reasons for optimism this year with so much back in the fold on defense and on the offensive line, but the name of the game in football is quarterback play, and there is a serious question mark there. It's hard to imagine anyone living up to the standard set by Roback. If Eastern Michigan is to win more games than it loses this season, it will be due a running game that controls the clock and a defense that limits big plays. It won't be long before EMU figures out where it stands in the MAC as it opens league play at home against Northern Illinois, travels to Western Michigan and is back home versus Toledo in the first three weeks of the conference season.